Naming your company or product: 4 basic approaches

Consider the four major categories of company names. (Imagine getting told this by a cigarette smoking, scotch tossing Don Draper):


They simply describe the company or product in a transparent way. Examples: Martha Stewart, BMW

Upside: They work when they direct most of their brand equity to the company name (instead of what they actually are).

Downside: They do NOT work when they explain to the world what you are, creating a situation that needlessly taxes the marketing function because they are drawn from a small pool of relevant keywords, causing them to blend together and fade into the background, indistinguishable from the bulk of competitors - the antithesis of marketing. The notion of describing a business in the name assumes it will exist at some point without contextual support, which is impossible. Company names will appear on websites, in news articles or press releases, on business cards, in advertisements, or, at their most naked, in conversations. There are simply no imaginable circumstances in which company names can exist without contextual, explanatory support, which means names should be free to perform more productive tasks.

Verdict: Straightforward to produce, but more limited than other options


They give a direct connection to something real. Examples: Safari, Navigator, Explorer

Upside: They make intuitive sense and evoke a bit of feeling. They work best for products within a brand strategy designed to accumulate brand equity for both the company and the product.

Downside: they are most effective for the early entrants in a business sector, becoming less effective for later adopters. The similarity in tone of these names across an industry is indicative of similarities in positioning. As web portal names, Explorer, Navigator, Safari are all saying exactly the same things in exactly the same ways to exactly the same people. Consequently, the names aren’t pulling much weight when it comes to differentiating a brand.

Verdict: Not being an early entrant makes this a risky option, but if the product is good enough, it will prove the text books wrong.


Type A is based on Latin, Greek or other foreign language roots. Examples: Nike, Atari, Lego
Upside: they are serious sounding and free of negative connotations.
Downside: large budgets are needed to give them meaning, they are image-free and emotionally void. Remember, for every Nike there are thousands of Phoenix’s. (“Which Phoenix?” you ask. Exactly.)

Type B is based on Poetic sounds. Examples: Snapple, Google, Kleenex
Upside: memorable, engaging, rich with energy
Downside: Takes more time to develop brand equity, unrealistic with limited budget or time constraints


They evoke feelings associated with positioning rather than function.

Think about these examples, compared to competitors (with names of other types):
InfoSeek, LookSmart = Descriptive
Explorer, Navigator = Experiential
Yahoo = Evocative

Trans World Airlines = Descriptive
United = Experiential
Virgin = Evocative

Digital Equipment = Descriptive
Gateway = Experiential
Apple = Evocative

Upside: powerful differentiator, deeply engaging, when synched with positioning - it can dominate industry
Downside: when not in synch with positioning, bad stuff can happen
Best upside, but somewhat risky without large front-end budget.

Final Thought

You may be thinking “It would be pretty cool to name our company or product something like Apple, instead of Digital Equipment.” We agree. Just make sure you have the positioning, messaging and execution budget to make it go.

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